Uttarakhand: Students refuse to eat midday meal made by Dalit cook

In a government school in Uttarakhand, upper-caste students refuse to eat a midday school meal cooked by a Dalit woman. The refusal is another instance of lower caste discrimination that has a deep impact on Indian education.

Sunita Devi, who belongs to a scheduled caste, was appointed as a cook for midday meals at a government secondary school in Jaul village in the Champawat district. She was appointed to cook meals for students of 6 to 8.

Government schools provide mid-day meals to all students to ensure their nutrition and to encourage attendance.

The principal of the school speaks to The Hindu said “On the first day, students of upper caste had the midday meal cooked by her without any fuss, but from the next day, they started boycotting meals. What made them stop eating the midday meals is beyond my understanding. Of the total 57 students today only 16 students belonging to the scheduled caste had a meal here.”

After Shakuntala Devi, the previous cook retired Sunita Devi filled up the vacancy in the government school.

“ We had received 11 applications for the post of Bhojan-mata. She was selected in an open meeting of the parent-teacher association and school management committee held in the first week of this month,” the principal added.

The parents of students allege that the management committee had passed over a deserving upper caste candidate.

Bablu Gahtori, a parent of students said, “A woman who was really needy and separated from her husband was selected in an open meeting but she was overlooked by the SMC and principal. She should have been given the opportunity to earn bread and butter instead of the woman who has been appointed as Bhojan Mata.”

A girl from a school said, “We are surprised to see the sudden change in behaviour of our fellow students. We were having a meal without any discrimination till last week.” The student belongs to the SC community.

Chief Education Officer of Champawat, RC Purohit said, “ The education department has set up an inquiry to look into the matter, I am personally looking into it. Deputy education officer Anshul Bisht has been tasked to lead the inquiry. Appropriate action will be taken after his report.”

The ex-chairman of the local municipality, Harshbardhan Rawat said “Boycotting midday meals cooked by a Dalit is a violation of law that is harmful to social harmony.”